Governments around the world are collaborating to address the challenges of climate change by developing and improving local, national, and international policy frameworks. The goal is to increase climate adaptation, create climate-resilient societies, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and mobilise financial resources. As important as proper policies are they cannot be effective without trickle-down implementation and skilled human resources. Governments and climate justice initiatives should engage local communities to establish contextual and sustainable benefit-sharing mechanisms and transfer technical skills and knowledge for conservation and environmental protection.
This Is Africa spoke to climate justice activist and development architect Emily Miki who works on innovative projects that help safeguard food security and environmental protection. Our discussion centred on Emily’s climate and development activism, the co-creation of adaptation solutions, public participation, and climate-specific capacity building.
This Is Africa (TIA): Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Emily Miki (Emily): My name is Emilia, but I prefer to be called Emily and I’m Cameroonian. I am the founder and CEO of Denis Miki Foundation which is a non-profitable charity organisation working to sustainably develop the rural and urban poor communities in Cameroon. I also run a social enterprise as part of my community development work.
TIA: And how did you get into climate justice?
Emily: I was able to get into the field of climate justice because in creating sustainable livelihood programs and projects we realised that agriculture was key. Moving towards green agriculture, organic farming and sustainable gardening initiatives brought me to climate change and environmental protection.
TIA: So your work brought you into the field?
Emily: Yes, my educational background is very different. I have a degree in nursing and later a Master’s Degree in International Relations. But because we need to address climate change in the work that I do, I now focus on food security, environmental protection, and innovative projects that help safeguard the first two.
But there is some interconnectivity, through my studies in International Relations I learned a lot about international policies and public action; both need implementing at the local level. Looking at various international climate agendas and how they are being localised at the national level you can see that climate justice is a practical notion. It is not just about policy, it is bringing actors from across the globe together to form or co-create innovative projects, develop ideas for a just community and a more protected environment, push advocacy for why we need more trees, and so on.
TIA: That’s an interesting point about what policy should do versus what it currently is.
Emily: Policies are not just made on paper, published on social media, or sent by email to the government. They are used for local development where the population can benefit in the implementation process through capacity building, network enhancement, and forums for public participation. Climate action can only work if we bring down international policies for implementation at the grassroots level.
I see this brought forward in the event that African Crossroads is organising. It is bringing together actors to create a network of collaboration that will protect our environment.
TIA: You’ve talked about your work and the networks you are in and hope to see. So, when you look around you, who do you see?
Emily: I see myself. Most of my work focuses on young people and women, so we try to use this age and gender lens to create spaces where they can be seen.
TIA: Let’s talk more about what you have done or are doing when it comes to women’s inclusion in climate activism?
Emily: One thing we have been doing is story collection. Through support from an Action fund, we collect stories and bring them to global spaces so that the realities of getting the work done can be seen by top decision-makers. This helps to push the policy process. We are doing a vlog series where we capture stories on video from women and girls at graduate levels and we are working on a podcast program. We are also hoping to gain visibility for these stories on communication and media platforms. The stories are not just centered around their climate action work but on their role as women in development initiatives and how these areas are interlinked.
TIA: You’ve stressed practical action and grassroots participation. What are some things you hope more people would do in their daily lives or on a smaller scale?
Emily: Waste management especially with plastics and plastic bottles. I live in a seaside city that has the Atlantic Ocean passing through it, during the rainy seasons with and whenever floods happen a lot of used plastic bottles can be seen all over the sea and all over the community. I want people to be mindful of their waste and using materials that are not degradable.
We are working on a proposal to create recycled trash cans using plastic bottles for public spaces. Once we secure funding, we will put the trash cans around the town and sensitise the community on the importance of properly disposing of trash. It should be clear that leaving trash on the streets causes us harm.
TIA: Do you think your community is digesting the fact that seaside areas are combating rising sea levels because of climate change?
Emily: In Limbe (a seaside city in the South-West Region) where I live, I have seen an attempt to manage the situation. But in other towns, it’s a total mess because of overpopulation. When there is rain or floods in Douala (Cameroon’s economic capital) the videos and images we see on media are heart-breaking. In my area, we used to face major loss of life from landslides.
I’ve been a victim of these extreme climate events. My former office in 2018 got flooded with heavy rains and I lost everything including my certificates. For my case, I had support from community networks and friends. I was also able to put up a fundraiser and the donations helped me move to a new office. Data, however, is important to my work and that loss kept me down for over a year and if it hadn’t happened I would have continued to grow instead I had to start from scratch.
Then my friend lost her husband and two children because of a landslide. They had built their house on a hill and one day when the rains were falling, she watched the house collapse on her husband and her two children. She was talking to her husband one moment then in a second, she and only one of her children survived. So, the impact of climate change is surrounded by a lot of trauma and there’s no mechanism for protection or prevention, there’s no mechanism for management even after these situations and there is no program to heal those affected.
TIA: So, while the community understands what is happening and has been greatly affected by the effects of climate change there is no government support?
Emily: We’ve seen situations where there was a landslide in one of the regions and the president sent financial support to the families that were affected. It was really shocking because in the past we have not seen that happen, which means climate change is something that is a huge topic of discussion now that everyone is affected. You never know who will be next and you cannot control the waters and the seas from rising, you cannot control the rain from falling, so how do we protect ourselves? Is the question that we are all left with.
TIA: A question that is an echoed concern. What can you say are some other challenges that you’ve experienced in your work?
Emily: Human resource. With climate change, you need people that are somewhat trained in the field, and I don’t think there’s any practical educational program. You don’t have people who have technical skills or educational knowledge so those who even try to join programs come in as volunteers and support staff. These are gaps not just for me (an individual-led non-profit or social enterprise) but also at the level of the ministries, decision-makers, and local councils. When you see how they manage projects for the protection of the environment such as say cleaning up the garters, the people who do this are just labourers who needed a job so it’s more or less a trial-and-error process. ‘We’ll let’s try this if it works it works if it doesn’t work tomorrow come and try the other one. If the water still climbs over, we’ll use another metal.’ There’s no practical planning. Yes, human resource is a gap.
TIA: I’m sure that your work has put you in many forums and many panels with people from all over the world. When you’re in these forums how are you received both as a woman and as a woman in your field?
Emily: Women are very underrepresented; you find sessions or events with mostly male speakers and male participants. This is why I push for women’s engagement in these kinds of spaces. I’m very proud to say that in the panel I am moderating for African Crossroads there are three women and one man. It’s over 90% women because being receptive of women is not enough, we must be actively included in these spaces.
Catch Emily at the African Crossroads 2021 edition on “Ecoexistence’ from the 14th-15th of October 2021.
This article is written as part of a storytelling series called: Symbiocene – Finding Coexistence: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Us, a collection commissioned in partnership with African Crossroads. The contents of the series are the sole responsibility of This Is Africa Trust, and cannot be regarded as reflecting the official position of Hivos Foundation.
Look out for the main physi-virtual hybrid event on 14th and 15th October 2021 featuring live and recorded presentations on ECOEXISTENCE – a call for writing A COLLECTIVE MANIFESTO on how to restore a symbiotic relationship between humans and other-than-human entities (natural elements, animals, data-generated avatars and others). The programme will be broadcasted online in the form of interviews, concerts, storytelling, panel discussions and digital experiences.